Biden pardons thousands with federal convictions of simple marijuana possession

In America

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President Joe Biden has announced a pardon of all prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana in a move welcomed as “long overdue” by criminal justice advocates.

“There are thousands of people who have prior federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions,” Biden said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon.

“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates,” he added.

Administration officials said that the pardon could benefit about 6,500 people, the Hill reports.

“It’s time that we right these wrongs,” Biden said.

He went on to urge all governors to do the same with regards to state offenses, saying, “Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.”

The president also called on the secretary of health and human services and the attorney general to begin the administrative process to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.

Marijuana is currently classified in schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act under federal law. Drugs classified under this schedule have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”.

This classification puts marijuana in the same schedule as for heroin and LSD and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine, two drugs that are fueling the ongoing overdose epidemic across the country.

Advocacy groups praised Biden’s announcement, with Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, saying the organization was “thrilled”, but adding “this is incredibly long overdue”.

“There is no reason that people should be saddled with a criminal record – preventing them from obtaining employment, housing and countless other opportunities – for something that is already legal in 19 states and DC and decriminalized in 31 states.”

The Rev Al Sharpton, the president of the National Action Network, said Biden’s “righteous action today will give countless Americans their lives back”. But he added, “The United States will never justly legalize marijuana until it reckons with the outdated policies that equated thousands of young Black men with hardened drug pushers.”

The move also fulfils one of the top priorities of the Democratic nominee in one of their party’s most critical Senate races, as Pennsylvania’s, lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, has repeatedly pressed Biden to take the step, including last month when they met in Pittsburgh.

Fetterman, in a statement, took credit for elevating the issue on Biden’s agenda and praised the decision, calling it “a massive step towards justice”.

“This action from President Biden is exactly what this work should be about: improving people’s lives. I commend the president for taking this significant, necessary, and just step to right a wrong and better the lives of millions of Americans,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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